Music in Global America


Saudi Arabia

Women have been allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia for less than a week but this young rapper and director wasted no time. Singer Leesa A took social media by storm when she released a music video of her rapping at the wheel of a car on the day the ban on women driving was officially lifted."I don't need anyone to take me... Drivers' license with me," she sings defiantly to the camera, sitting in the driver's seat of a Hyundai. Until the law officially changed on 24 June, women in Saudi Arabia could not drive and families had to hire private chauffeurs for female relatives. The end of the decades-old ban was announced last September and the first licenses were issued earlier this month. [Georgina Rennard, "Saudi wastes no time to rap at the wheel," BBC News, June 2018]

Qusai - (Don Legend) of Saudi Arabia, now about 40, was first professional Saudi hip hop artist. He began in high school by selling tapes of his music from a car trunk. At age 17 he emigrated to the U.S. as a student and stayed for eleven years, playing in Orlando, Atlanta, Chicago, and New York City. He has performed with US hip-hop artists Ludacris and Akon among others.

Back in Saudi Arabia in 2005, his first two albums sold in the tens of thousands despite having no international distribution or online sales and topped Arab music charts for consecutive weeks. Qusai hosted Arabs Got Talent on MBC in 2011. Tours throughout Europe, the Middle East and the United States followed through 2017, when Qusai hosted the Saudi television show Hip Hop Na with Fredwreck for MTV.

In Qusai's "The Wedding" (2008) and "Yalla" (2012), lyrical content is "clean" and the videos attempt to portray a positive and moral vision of Saudi society.
Last year it was announced by the Saudi govt that hip-hop would be included in programs by the influential Saudi Arabian Society for Culture and Arts (SASCA), which sponsors and develops Saudi artists. Qysai performed  for a crowd that contained both sexes, reflecting the changing nature of life within Saudi Arabia. Having an artist like Qusai front and center, rapping in English and Arabic, paints a favorable picture of a country looking to reinvent itself to international audiences. It also fits with the narrative of bin Salman's Vision 2030 strategy to make Saudi Arabia more open and moderate. [Heidi Pullyard, "Qusai Kheder, Saudi Arabia's Hip Hop Pioneer," CNN, November 16, 2017]


Ahmad Mekky is an Egyptian actor, writer, director, and rapper. Mekky has many hits recordings and is well known for his 2009 patriotic song "Masr Baldy" ("Egypt Is My Home").  He began his career in the Egyptian cinema after graduating from the directing division at the Institute of Cinema in Cairo.
Zap Tharwat is an underground poet and rapper from Egypt who rose to fame during and after the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. Born Ahmed Tharwat in Jordan, his songs tackle many of the social and political problems faced by Egyptians in the second decade of the 21st century.  He continues to be the voice of young Egyptians, releasing several hits including  "ba7lam" and "meen el Sabab". []


The Arabs in this video are originally from Hadhramaut in South Yemen. The Hadhrami people have settled in many parts of the world. This video comes from Indonesia but represents the traditional Yemeni culture.

The sound of the takht and its rhythmic configuration is similar to the all-electronic instrumental backup for Yemeni singer Ofra Haza.

Inspired by a love of her Yemenite Jewish and Hebrew culture, her music quickly spread to a wide Middle Eastern audience. As her career progressed, Haza was able to switch between traditional and more commercial singing styles without jeopardizing her credibility. Her music fused elements of Eastern and Western instrumentation, orchestration and dance-beat. She became successful in Europe and the Americas; during her singing career, she earned many platinum and gold discs.

A-WA (Arabic for Yes) is an Israeli band made up of the three sisters Tair, Liron, and Tagel Haim. Their single "Habib Galbi" (“Love of My Heart”) became a world hit, with its Yemenite traditional music mixed with hip-hop and electronic music. [Wikipedia]

Arab Women in Rap

Shadia Mansour (b. 1985), also known as "the first lady of Arabic hip hop" is a British Palestinian singer and MC who sings and raps in Arabic and English. Much of her music focuses on Middle East politics." [Wikipedia]
Shadia is the featured vocalist in "Hamdullillah" by Iraqi-Canadian rapper and Arab hip hop pioneer Yassin 'Narcy' Alsalman.

Malikah became a sensation in early 2000s with her feiry presence, camo vest, and feminist rap message. Malikah confronts inequalities, the ongoing plight of Palestinian people, and aims to empower women. [Khaoula Ghanem, "How Malikah became Queen of Arab Hip Hop"]
See also: "Malikah Raps Out of Rage," by Eric Mandel,, May 2017
More recently, the Syrian-American rapper and activist Mona Haydar gained worldwide attention with her hit rap song "Hijabi (Wrap My Hijab)"

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